What was old is new again: how digital platforms change chefs’ work and career
Sidonie Naulin – Associate professor in economic sociology at Sciences Po Grenoble/Pacte (France)
Labor platforms are deeply transforming the work and careers of chefs. Private chefs, who almost disappeared after the French Revolution (Drouard, 2007 ; Poulain & Neirinck, 2004), are now coming back thanks to dedicated digital platforms. This article is based on a dozen of semi-structured interviews with French cooks registered to the main French digital platform for private chefs: La Belle Assiette. This digital platform was launched in 2013 and it now hosts more than 650 private chefs within 6 European countries. Clients can order a private diner at their home with a specific chef who is registered on the platform. The platform charges a fee for connecting people which represents around 12% of the amount of the diner. This article investigates the transformations of the work and careers of chefs. First, it aims at explaining why more and more chefs are choosing to be independent workers for private clients rather than employed cooks or restaurant owners. Is private chef an additional activity for amateur chefs? Is it a second job for already employed cooks? Is it a first step for chefs who are willing to create their own restaurant? Or is it a new type of career? The choice to become a private chef is all the more surprising since the job market for chefs is facing a serious shortage of workers. The difficulty in accessing credit, the emergence of new professional status such as “self employed” (Abdelnour, 2017), the role of the poor working conditions in restaurants (Fine, 2008) and the work aspirations they foster are investigated in order to explain the importance of digital platforms in the current career path of chefs. Second, digital platforms do not only change chefs’ careers, they also induce changes of their work experience. Private chefs are more autonomous, more multi-skilled, they have to develop their knowledge in accounting and management and their daily work is transformed by new rhythms, new environments, and new relationships with customers. This reshaping of work questions the boundaries of their profession. The article investigates the new skills needed for chefs who become private chefs and how they acquire them. Digital platform also question the supervision of work: how can digital platform control the quality of the chefs’ work? How do they recruit chefs, and engage them to meet quality standards?